Change and continuity since 1997 The General Election of May 1997 brought to a sudden end 18 years of right-wing Conservative administrations during which even ‘collectivist’ Wales and Scotland felt the effects of a succession of radical and far-reaching policies designed to destroy the educational culture that had developed between 1944 and 1979. It is fair to say that, in many quarters, New Labour’s astonishing electoral victory was, in fact, greeted with a heady mixture of hope, optimism and expectancy. As Phillips and Harper-Jones argued in 2003: ‘The majority of professionals working in all spheres of education, from early years to higher education, looked forward to working under (or even with) a new government that was genuinely committed to progressive educational reform after nearly two decades of retrenchment, declining morale and confrontation (Phillips and Harper-Jones, 2003: 126). Yet the feeling of excitement and optimism was to prove short-lived, and it became difficult to argue that the arrival of New Labour marked a new beginning and a decisive break with the past. It was indeed soon being claimed by a number of commentators (see, for example, Chitty and Dunford, 1999; Docking, 2000; Tomlinson, 2001) that, for all the rhetoric, the Blair government’s policies for education were fundamentally those of the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, ‘dressed up in New Labour clothes’.
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